Dialogue With a Classic: P′etsux’s Cycle Čexov Is With Us

Lyudmila Parts, Columbia University

Contemporary Russian literature has been characterized as everything form “other prose” to “postmodernist.” Among its distinctive features are a sense of disillusionment in the historical metanarratives of Progress and Reason, and the dismantling of such distinctively Russian myths as the myth of the Great Russian Literature. And yet, its main structural device is intertextuality. Critics have noticed the recurrence of quotations, allusions and other forms of reference in the contemporary writers’ works to the giants of Russian classical literature: Puškin, Gogol′, Dostoevskij, and Čexov. It seems that our present-day literature is made mostly of our classical literature. The question remains why these particular authors persist in the foreground of cultural memory? How does the classical intertext function in contemporary works dedicated to challenging its mythological status?

The cycle of short stories by Vjačeslav P′etsux, Čexov is with us (Čexov s nami), one of the most explicit, but far from the only instance of the determined dialogue with the classics in contemporary prose, provides a number of starting points for my inquiry. P′etsux brings the archetypal Čexovian characters and plots into the reality of the last decades of the twentieth century, and addresses the problems of continuity and change, central to the contemporary literary and political discussions. His stories emphasize the complexity of Čexov’s cultural myth and, at the same time, underscore the ambiguity of the postmodernist practice of deconstructing literary myths while making “new” forms of culture form the same ingredients.